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French hydrogen mobility project passes major milestone

Public-private joint venture Zero Emission Valley has announced partners to construct green hydrogen filling network

One of the most ambitious zero-carbon hydrogen mobility projects in Europe, the Zero Emission Valley (ZEM) in south-eastern France, took a major step forward on 18 June with the award of equipment contracts. 

ZEM was initiated by the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Regional council with the aim of accelerating the large-scale deployment of green hydrogen, which is produced using renewable power and electrolysis.

The council is a shareholder—alongside utility Engie, tyre manufacturer Michelin and banks Credit Agricole and Banque des Territoires —in Hympulsion, an all-French joint-venture that will finance, build and operate the infrastructure. It is the largest project of its type in France.

The public-private structure illustrates the role public support can play in enabling the roll-out of pilot projects involving green hydrogen, which is far more expensive than the grey hydrogen that accounts for almost all commercial use and emits CO2 in the methane-reforming process. The EU’s Innovation and Networks Executive Agency and the French Environment and Energy Management Agency are financing partners in Hympulsion.

"The scale of the project is making a major contribution to the industrialisation of the hydrogen industry and to the reduction of its costs" Carme, McPhy

Hympulsion selected the MAT consortium—an acronym of its hydrogen-focused constituent companies McPhy, Atawey and TSM—to supply 14 filling stations, several of which will be equipped with electrolysers.

McPhy, which specialises in hydrogen production and distribution equipment, including electrolysers, is leading the consortium. Atawey designs and manufactures turnkey autonomous energy solutions for isolated sites while TSM manufactures refuelling stations and industrial piping. The project as a whole represents more than €11mn in sales for McPhy.

“The scale of the project is making a major contribution to the industrialisation of the hydrogen industry and to the reduction of its costs, thereby making clean energy more competitive compared to fossil fuels,” says McPhy CEO Laurent Carme, adding that its success is linked to the public-private structure of the project.

“The success of this real premiere is linked to the coordination of major public and private sector players around structuring projects for the industrial and economic development of territories.”

McPhy’s share price surged 46pc during the trading day after the announcement, rising from €8.50 to €11.80. It is the latest of several high-profile stocks to surge in the sector, following US hydrogen fuel-cell truck manufacturer Nikola Motors, during a period when traditional energy stocks have suffered.

Hydrogen strategy

The EU is set to announce its hydrogen strategy on 24 June. It is widely expected to contain a heavy bias towards green hydrogen, in line with reported leaks and the German national hydrogen strategy.

The announcement comes at a time when some are questioning whether the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic crisis are weakening the resolve of governments and companies to decarbonise the economy.

“At a time when the current global health crisis has resonances with the climate crisis, Hympulsion is acting and investing by combining the creation of activity, employment and the fight against climate change,” says Hympulsion president Thierry Raevel. “We share this common ambition with our financing partners.”

The plan for ZEV includes the deployment of 1,200 fuel-cell vehicles and a total of 20 hydrogen stations before the end of 2023. Several of the stations will include electrolysers to produce hydrogen from renewable electricity.

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